Election officials across the country have closed thousands of polling places and reduced the number of workers staffing them in recent years, citing cost savings and other new realities like increased early and absentee balloting. However, days from what many expect will be one of the busiest midterm elections in decades, the burden of Americans’ shrinking access to in-person voting options is falling more heavily on urban areas and minority voters, a USA TODAY analysis of national and state data shows. Voting rights advocates say the disappearance of polling sites could create confusion about where to vote, and thinner staffing of remaining sites could mean longer lines. Those problems, they fear, could shrink voter turnout in some neighborhoods.
“Any time you create additional hoops that voters have to jump through, it hurts – particularly when it affects the poorest, most at-risk, and vulnerable citizens,” said John Powers, counsel for the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington.
Counties with larger minority populations – most of them the urban centers of large metropolitan areas – were left with fewer polling sites and poll workers per active voter, according to an analysis that included data from the Election Administration and Voting Survey and the U.S. Census Bureau as well as local and state voting agencies.